A protester and a Los Angeles county sheriff's department deputy embrace in solidarity during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles, California, the US, June 3 2020. Picture: DAVID McNEW/GETTY IMAGES
A protester and a Los Angeles county sheriff's department deputy embrace in solidarity during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles, California, the US, June 3 2020. Picture: DAVID McNEW/GETTY IMAGES

Washington  —  US senator Lisa Murkowski said on Thursday criticism of President Donal Trump's response to nationwide protests by former defence secretary Jim Mattis rang true, a day after the former Pentagon head said he was “angry and appalled” after witnessing events of the past week.

Mattis  issued a stinging rebuke of Trump on Wednesday, accusing the president of trying to divide the US and failing to provide mature leadership as the country reels from days of protests triggered by the death of George Floyd during  his  arrest by white police officers in Minneapolis.

His death in May has become the latest flashpoint for rage over police brutality against African Americans, propelling the issue of race to the top of the political agenda five months before the US presidential election on November 3.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote in a statement posted online by The Atlantic. “Instead, he tries to divide us. ... We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Mattis said he was “angry and appalled” at events of the past week, which saw Trump threaten a military crackdown on American citizens as nationwide protests turned violent in some cities.

Asked if she supported Trump, Murkowski said, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time. ... I thought Gen Mattis’s words were true, honest, and necessary and overdue.”

Another Republican, senator Mitt Romney, also praised Mattis, saying his words were “stunning and powerful”.

But while several other Republican senators said they respected Mattis, they shrugged at his criticisms.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged that Trump “can be a handful” and can “do better”, but said Trump had been unfairly targeted throughout his presidency.

“To Gen  Mattis ... you're missing the fact that the liberal media has taken every event in the last three and half years and laid it at the president's feet,” Graham told Fox News. “I'm not saying he's blameless, but I am saying that you're buying into a narrative that I think is quite frankly unfair.”

People participate in a peaceful protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Washington, DC, June 4 2020. Picture: DREW ANGERER/AFP
People participate in a peaceful protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Washington, DC, June 4 2020. Picture: DREW ANGERER/AFP

Meanwhile, hundreds of mourners in Minneapolis attended a memorial service for  Floyd on Thursday.

Members of his family, the Rev Jesse Jackson, Minnesota governor Tim Walz, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey also attended the service  at North Central University in Minneapolis.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton  said at the memorial that it was time to hold police accountable and that Floyd's death would not be in vain.

“This is the era to deal with policing,” Sharpton said. “America, this is the time for dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system,” he said. “We won't stop,” Sharpton said, in reference to the protests. “We're going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.”

Derek Chauvin  has been  fired from the Minneapolis police force and charged with second-degree murder after being filmed in a widely circulated video kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd gasped for air and repeatedly saying, “Please, I can't breathe.”

People embrace during a memorial service for George Floyd following his death in Minneapolis police custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the US, June 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON
People embrace during a memorial service for George Floyd following his death in Minneapolis police custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the US, June 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Police suspected Floyd, 46, of trying to pass a counterfeit bill to pay for cigarettes.

The protests, that have raged for nine days across the US and internationally,  dwindled overnight into Thursday after prosecutors levelled new charges against the Minneapolis policemen implicated in the killing.  A judge set bail of $1m  for three of the officers on Thursday.

Several major cities scaled back or lifted curfews imposed for the past few days. Several hundred troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who were sent to the Washington DC area to potentially respond to civil unrest were  expected to return to their home base in North Carolina on Friday, a US official said.

Services for Floyd are expected to stretch across six days and three states. Memorials will also be held on Saturday in Hoke County, North Carolina, where Floyd's sister lives, and in Houston on Monday, near where Floyd had lived. A funeral is planned for Tuesday with private services at an undisclosed location.

Reuters, AFP